I am a sneakerhead episode 56 - @Smallgainz

I’ve always considered myself a relative newbie to the sneaker game but I guess by these days standards I’m more of an OG.

For me it started in high school here in Brisbane, Australia with a preoccupation for “retro” styled clothing and music. I distinctly remember lauding an adidas Firebird track top in white with the black stripes. From there it progressed to footwear, in particular I was really interested in the adidas ROM and Superstar, but after searching around and around on eBay I ended up buying a pair of Nike Dunks which years later I found to be from some argyle pack that included an Air Trainer One. They were shades of grey with green accents and a touch of pink which I always thought was sweet. At that stage I was wearing a US12 but nowadays I wear a US10.

From that point I delved deeper into sneakers and ended up buying a pair of adidas Superstar Run DMC 35th Anniversary from eBay about a year later. When I received them it seemed a bit fishy, so I started researching on how to tell real from fake, and at that stage I stumbled across a website called Crooked Tongues. This was back in roughly 2005/6 I think (that lines up with the 35th Anniv.). Anyway it all snowballed from there and I got hooked on the nerdiness of it all.

To cut a long story short, I started collection Puma as I really got down with the heritage of the Suede/Basket/Clyde, the simple colour ways teamed with the prevalence of OGs online for cheap prices and the relatively unknown history of models. This lasted for a year or two until I started getting sick of my toes being destroyed by tiny toe boxes and the idea that smaller sizes looked better on foot. At that point I started looking into New Balance, it had a similar mystery around it and I was always a sucker for grey suede shoes.

From that point on in about 2008 I’ve been obsessed with what the company from Boston has been producing. For the longest time, NB was a real cult brand with a dedicated few tucked in the corner of the Crooked forums discussing the way a suede was napped and the unusual factory hybrids coming out of Flimby when they ran out of the correct part. The fact they were (and still do) making them by hand in the UK and USA also meant that there was an ability to make tiny production numbers on their collaborative models, which means that (for me) anything that was made in production of more than 100 pairs seems like it isn’t really that rare.

I made some great friends through this sneaker thing, I’ve met plenty of interesting people and I’ve made a living through working within the industry for almost 7 years. At present day though I have seen the passion fade away from the newer generations. For me it has become more of a chore, a business model for the larger corporations to really milk the culture that we had built over the last decade that was focussed on retro and limited sneakers. The original protagonists were never concerned with making sure we were the coolest, we were (and are) all giant nerds. Sure we all have some cool sneakers, but back when we were going hard it wasn’t an accepted or even lauded thing to be doing, instead it was considered weird.

Nowadays everyone has 12 pairs of shoes and they’re a “sneaker head” but to me it’s about more than that. For me it’s about the passion, the ability to sit down and talk about even the finest detail of your favourite model and to sit there and listen to someone else do the same. These days I feel that has been lost at the broadest level, but then maybe I’m just getting old…

For me it’s hard to chose a favourite lineup of sneakers because simply everything I own has a special place in my heart. That being said there’s a few models that I would consider my “some of the best shoes ever made” so I guess that’s a place to start.

New Balance 1500 - I spent years creating an archive of every 1500 created but recently had to stop. It started when NB said they would cease production but that never happened and now I can’t bother keeping up since the shape changed in 2008. I signalled the retirement of the archive by doing a fully archival grade art print of the shoes. I really think in its most perfect form (before 2008) this is one of the greatest shoes ever created by any person. Steve Smith outdid himself on this one. The only version of this shoe that can stand up to the original production colour ways is the first 1500 collaboration ever by my friend who founded Solebox, Hikmet. Selling that shoe was a watershed moment for me, but the sole becoming unwearable meant they had to go.

New Balance 997 - Another creation of Steve Smith! For years I (and many others) hassled NB to recreate this shoe. It was one of the last remaining “holy grails” for many a collector, with all original pairs being unwearable due to the ENCAP sole unit disintegrating over time. I have been put in print as saying if they ever made the original greys and made it in the USA I’d buy 3 pairs. I didn’t, I bought 4… I’m still hopeful that one day NB will tap me on the shoulder for all my contributions to their brand to create a “collectors edition” of this model.

New Balance 1300JP/JP2 - They do it every 5 years and every time it gets closer to the 1985 originals. This shoe is easily one of the most wearable ever made, it looks good in just about every situation. Just like the 997, I can’t get enough. Currently I have 2 pairs as backup to get me through until 2020…

Nike Air Safari - For me one of the best Nike shoes ever made. I guess I’m channelling my NB roots but the weirdness of the Safari (remember this launched with the Air Max 87) combined with the ultra-premium use of materials always intrigued me. For the longest time I owned almost zero Nike footwear but I’ve always had 2 pairs of the original black/tan Safari on lock. It’s one pair that given the chance I’d jump at owning a pair of OGs in a heartbeat, but the rarity of this shoe means that prices are through the roof (which is warranted) so it’ll just be pictures for me.

adidas EQT Support (1991) - Again I feel this has a lot to do with why I like NB. When adidas relaunched their branding in 1991 they did it with EQT and the Support has always been the poster boy for it. The muted colourways, to-the-point names and extraordinary price point has always been a huge appeal to me. The retro from 2005 is still probably the best quality retro ever made, it even smells like an old pair! The two IRAK versions of this shoe from ’07/’08 are some of my most treasured collaborations too.

New Balance 576 (UK) - This shoe is very underrated but when you see a good pair it’s hard to beat. This model holds some special connotations to me because a lot of the very rare NB collaborations from Crooked Tongues, Microzine, Kitsune etc came on this shoe. Many years of searching have been dedicated to finding a lot of those releases, each one has a story.

Nike Flyknit Racer - This is a shoe that I was very keen on from its release. There’s something about this model that strikes me as the truest “future classic” of our current era. Whilst there’s more popular shoes with Boost soles right now, to me the Racer in particular packs the right punch. It’s a pure performance sneaker that was created to win races and whilst it doesn’t necessarily hit the pavement for the record breakers it looks the best on foot and when you hold them it gives you a sense of speed that very few other shoes do from this age. To me they’re like a stripped down racer, a F1 car for the road. Everything there you need and nothing more, even more than what they’re doing with Free now. The first multicolour and the volt originals are unbeatable to me. I’m also lucky enough to have a sample model that preceded the Racer from a Kenyan athlete training for the London Olympics I was lucky enough to find before the Jordan/Asics/SB/whatever guys decided they wanted to spend stupid money on Flyknit.

These days whilst I still love the sneakers it really doesn’t interest me any more with the aforementioned change in how things are happening. Instead I’ve decided to channel my passion into a store of my own and put back what I’ve learned and what inspires me to my peers and surrounding community. I don’t know if it comes with age or what, but for me this has always been a sticking point. I enjoy talking and teaching about what I love and at the end of the day I’m a huge nerd so I’m going to be interested in just about anything and everything at some level. For me this is what CONTRA has become, a way of expressing that and at the same time being able to grow and mature as a person. I don’t deny where I’ve come from, I embrace it and let that inform where I go to next. If NB dropped a re-jigged 1500, made in USA with the correct shape in any of the OG colours though I'd be the first to lose their shit...

@smallgainz - @contragram

Oliver Berg